Video interview with arrested artists' family members and Derb Marrakch community members.
The Derb Marrakch Case
Only a week after Moroccan dissident hiphop artist Mouad Belghouat (also known by his stage name El-Haqed) is arrested in Casablanca for the third time after releasing his third album “Walou” (Nothing), a group of young filmmakers, actors and hiphop artists are arrested just across the city in the neighboring town of Mohammedia.
Consisting of several students and recent film school graduates, the group embarked on the task of turning a song two hiphop artists in the group had already recorded into a music video. The song they recorded spoke up against a local gang “Tcharmil” which had been terrorizing the community.
While filming the video in their neighborhood Derb Marrakch, the group was arrested by the police who accused them of being a part of the gang they were criticizing. The police held that the cellphones, watches and a sword they carried with them at the time were evidence. However, their families and many members of their community contested that the cellphones and watches were in fact the group’s personal belongings. The sword, they claimed was being used by actors who were playing the role of Tcharmil gang members-- infamous for their use of long knives and swords in their assaults.
The affair was broken to the public by Mohammedia Press, in a twenty minute interview with the artists’ families and members of their community in Derb Marrakch. In the video a large group of community members gathered around the camera, outraged by the arrest of what they claim are innocent kids.
In the video, one of the artists’ brothers explains “they were going to put the video on youtube to raise awareness about the issue. They were against the gang and wanted to use the video to send a simple message ‘no to gangs.’” Another community member comes forward and elaborates: “they were targeting other youth, discouraging them from joining gangs. They wanted to show them that this gang is detrimental to our community, that they create fear and make us feel less secure in our neighborhoods... they were using rap and a music video to appeal-- to use a language that other youth understand.”
The Moroccan Young Film Artist's Dilemma
Going beyond the arrest of these artists, the Derb Marrakch case highlights a larger problem that plagues young Moroccan filmmakers who continue to find themselves disenfranchised by the state. Designed to monopolize filmmaking and art in general, Moroccan filmmaking regulations and laws lie at the core of this issue.
Normally when a filmmaker wants to recreate a scene in which actors use weapons, local authorities are notified in order to prevent misunderstanding and the arrest of the actors and crew. In the Morocco however, the authorities have cornered filmmakers by making it difficult to obtain shooting permits from the film-regulating state body, the Centre Cinematographique Marocain (CCM).
In order to make a film Moroccans have to be part of a state-sanctioned production company and have to have made a certain number of short films and feature films. In other words, we have no choice but to break the law in order to make the required minimum of films before being able to begin making films legally. This pushes many of us to make guerrilla films, which do not ask for state permits. While some of us do it as a form of civil disobedience to protest these laws, others like the Derb Marrakch crew did it because they didn’t have a choice.
As recent graduates and students, they were not a part of a production company and would have been refused a permit even if they attempted to get it. In addition, as a budget-less crew they would have had to personally pay for multiple transportation fares to the Moroccan capital, Rabat where the CCM is located. Hence, they resorted to guerrilla filmmaking which landed them in jail despite the fact that the subject of their film was not critical of the state in any way.
The Dictatorship of the Bourgeois Camera
It is in this way that marginalized Moroccan youth are discouraged from telling their own stories through film. Most film school graduates from low income neighborhoods end up working as low-end technicians for state-sponsored filmmakers and state television channels. As such, even Moroccan films like Ali Zawa (2000), les Chevaux de Dieu (2012) and Casanegra (2008) which tell the stories of the the poor are being told from the perspective of the Moroccan bourgeois filmmaker.
In his critique of Ali Zawa, New York Time’s film critic Dave Kehr correctly pointed out : “the film is less interested in moving a viewer to anger and action than in eliciting a few tears of pity and granting us a warm glow of self-congratulation for having shared for a moment in the anguish of underprivileged others.” Kehr’s statement can apply to most Moroccan films which attempt to tell stories of marginalized groups in our society.
Filmmakers like Nabyl Ayouch and Nourredine Lakhmari continue to dictate with their cameras how poverty should be viewed and treated. They don’t tell us who to blame or what to do about it. Given a mandate by the state, they act as extensions of the Moroccan deep state’s hegemony in the artistic domain. They control the stories which young marginalized Moroccan filmmakers like the Derb Marrakch youth should be telling themselves. But as the Derb Marrakch arrests show us, Moroccan youth are denied the right to use the camera as a means of changing their own situation.